Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire, an Teachta Ross.
Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed)
When I spoke on this Bill before Christmas, I referred to the need for a sensible approach to road safety and suggested that roads like the N4, the N17, the N16 and the N15 might need to be upgraded. When I was driving on the national primary road that passes through Carrick-on-Shannon last Friday evening, 12 January, I was unable to move my car for an hour and 45 minutes because of an accident on the Boyle side of the bridge. There was chaos in the town because traffic on the N4 was backed up on the main Dublin to Sligo road for 5 km or 6 km. We need to start looking seriously at these roads. Luckily and thankfully, nobody was killed. It is outrageous that these delays are happening fairly often because of the extra traffic on the road.
When I spoke previously, I outlined the Fianna Fáil proposal to increase the number of penalty points from three to five and to increase to €500 the fine for drivers caught with blood alcohol levels of between 50 mg and 80 mg. A number of people were angered by an aspect of my comments during the debate. I appreciate from where they are coming. My comments were designed to be constructive. Based on the feedback to me and to my office, I am of the view that they reflect the views of a silent majority of those who live in our rural communities. We need to be absolutely clear that drunk drivers can cause immense loss and suffering. Drink-driving should never be condoned.
Young drivers in rural Ireland are being ripped off by faceless insurance companies. This problem needs to be looked at as well. People living in rural areas have to buy cars so they can get to work. It is very unfair that a young person who buys a car for €1,000 might have to pay €4,000 for insurance. These people should be looked after.
If we are serious about tackling the problems on our roads, we should roll out a major capital investment programme for the upgrading of our national primary and secondary routes. Sligo and Leitrim county councils have been starved of money in recent years. Part of the problem of people being killed on our roads is that many roads are not of a sufficient quality or standard. An examination of this country's road network will reveal that south of a line between Dublin and Galway, there are motorways from Dublin to Cork, Limerick and Waterford but that north of the line in question there is a road from Mullingar to Sligo which has been there for the past 100 years.
The time has come to invest in our roads and to sort out the issue of road deaths.
I am pleased to be able to speak in support of this important legislation. To give some background on where I stand, I do not know much about transport policy as it is not an area in which I have expertise or experience. I do not have a driving licence or drive a car, I am not a publican and I do not live in a rural area. However, I have closely followed this debate since the issue entered the public domain. The reason for doing so is that I have been fortunate to have been able to spend a significant amount of time with people who have lost family members in road traffic accidents. Members of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport heard the story of Marsia Lieghio, a beautiful 16 year old girl whose family are from my constituency. As the committee heard, Marsia was ploughed down by a car and lost her life in 2005 in circumstances involving dangerous and reckless driving. She died on her younger sister's birthday.
When I was a member of South Dublin County Council, Marsia's father, Leo Lieghio, approached me because the family was trying to raise the profile of the case for stronger legislation to ensure these types of tragic and unnecessary deaths would not happen in future. What struck me when I met Leo was that, in the midst of the deepest grief and struggling with an incredibly difficult set of circumstances that I can only imagine, he committed himself to publicly campaigning, speaking out and urging those of us in positions of some responsibility for making decisions to do something to try to tackle this very serious issue. I gave him a commitment some years ago, before this Bill had been published, that if I was ever in a position to speak in support of or vote for a measure that had the slightest chance of ensuring other families would not be put in the same position as the Lieghio family, I would do so. On that basis, I will say a few short words in this debate.
Deputies will know that Leo Lieghio is a member of the Irish Road Victims Association. In February 2017, the association held an incredibly poignant event outside Leinster House when it displayed 188 photographs of people of all ages, many of them young, who had died as a result of reckless driving. While different circumstances applied in each of these tragic and unnecessary deaths, drink driving was a factor in many of them. We have a responsibility to put to one side the issues raised by previous speakers in this debate and do the right thing by the families who have been bereaved as a result of reckless driving and drink driving to ensure fewer families are affected by it in future.
At the centre of this argument is the question of what happens when a person drinks alcohol. I have a simple rule in life, namely, I do not touch social media after I have had even one drink. The simple reason is that my judgment is impaired when I drink alcohol. I do not make this point flippantly but to emphasise that if I believe my judgment has been impaired to such an extent that I will not use social media, how on earth is it acceptable to get into a car, switch on the engine and drive when one's judgment is similarly impaired? It is not that in the ordinary course - on a decent road in good weather conditions when nothing unexpected occurs - people would not drive home safely. The issue arises when one combines the impairment of a person's judgment, even with the smallest amount of alcohol, with bad weather and another driver doing something reckless on the road. This forces people to make a split second judgment, which they would ordinarily make correctly. In circumstances of impairment, however, people are less able to make the appropriate judgment. I unequivocally support the Bill for this reason. If we accept that our judgment is impaired, even by a small fraction by alcohol, and that these impairments play a role in some road traffic accidents and road accident fatalities, there is no justification for opposing or abstaining on the Bill.
I deliberately stated that I am not from a rural area. I represent a large urban constituency and I am acutely aware of the seriousness of many of the issues rural Deputies from all parties raise regularly in the House. I do not underestimate these problems but the solution to them lies not in opposing the Bill but in Deputies giving a commitment to work together to tackle them. Deputy Scanlon spoke about the condition of roads in rural areas and he is correct. I am familiar with the roads in his home county as I spend time there. However, that is not an argument for opposing the Bill but one for putting much greater pressure on the Minister opposite and his Government colleagues to increase investment and tackle the problem. I will give any Deputy who is concerned about this issue a commitment that I will work with him or her as much as I am working in support of the Bill.
Some people will argue that the Bill will hurt the pub trade. That may be the case and it is not a scenario I would welcome but if I am asked to make a choice between ensuring there are fewer deaths on our roads and ensuring the vintners trade becomes more vibrant, it is not a choice for me.
Others argue that the real issue is one of enforcement. I do not doubt that is the case and I will not defend the failure of the Government or the previous Government to invest adequately in Garda resources. There is no single solution to this problem. While greater enforcement is important and necessary, the lack of enforcement is not a reason for refusing to support the Bill. The opposite is the case.
I do not believe the Bill will hurt rural Ireland. I have been reading reports in local newspapers, including some from counties Donegal, Westmeath and Kerry, about people from rural areas who have lost loved ones as a result of impaired drivers failing to make the correct decisions. These people are also being hurt. People in rural areas are hurting just as much as people in urban areas are hurting as a result of unnecessary deaths on our roads. Again, while I am not from a rural area, if I want to do the right thing by people in rural areas, as I want to do by my constituents, supporting this Bill is a small but nonetheless important step to make.
I will only use half of the time available to me because it is important that the Bill progresses to Committee Stage as quickly as possible. I have no idea how many lives would be saved as a result of this Bill and I do not believe anybody examining the evidence that has become available since the start of this debate could say with any certainty how many lives would be saved. However, I am certain that it has the potential to save some lives. If we tackle enforcement, improve roads and address other areas of transport policy, we could save even more lives. If the Bill has the potential to save even one life, every Deputy has a responsibility to support it and ensure one life is saved, if for no other reason than to ensure that one family does not have to experience the grief, trauma and pain that Marsia Lieghio's family experienced after her untimely, unacceptable and unnecessary death and continue to experience every day.
I urge Deputies who are wavering or considering abstaining in the vote and those who are committed to voting against it to reconsider their position. If they want us to work with them on the other issues that have been highlighted, I will give them a commitment to do so to have the issues addressed. I appeal to them, however, not to stand in the way of this significant and important legislation.
Having listened carefully to the debate tonight and before Christmas, I am a little concerned about some of the comments on the Bill and the tone and attitude displayed in some of the contributions towards people who raise concerns about the measures in it. It is becoming an increasingly common feature of society that people who raise concerns and ask for more reasoned dialogue are vilified as outliers, pariahs and filibusterers who are responsible for killing people on our roads and so forth. That is not helpful because no Member is in favour of making the roads less safe or jeopardising anyone's life.
I understand and fully support the desire and efforts to make our roads safer - I genuinely believe everyone does. I accept the point that even one death on the road is one death too many. However, that does not mean I do not have the right to raise concerns about the legislation or to question its effectiveness, and I do question it. I do not believe that tone is helpful. It is something that we should examine as a society. If a person is against criminalising the purchase of sex, suddenly that person is in favour of exploiting women. If a person supports the call to end the sanctions on Syria, somehow that makes the person a supporter of Bashar al Assad. If a person raises questions about this legislation, she is irresponsible, a gombeen and a pariah and is jeopardising people's lives. That is not on. I do not believe that is healthy or that it is a good way of debating issues. We should be more adult about it, as it were.
I have listened to much of the debate. I still do not know what I think about it. However, some valid points have been raised to question the effectiveness of the proposal, especially in the context of other major issues where road safety and lives are being put at risk.
Let us deal with some of those points. Deputy Ó Broin made the point that we know this legislation will save some lives. I do not know that is the case and I have not seen the evidence in that regard. We are talking about increasing the punishment at the lower level of alcohol consumption. How do we know that will save lives? It may or may not. That is what we are doing. To me, it is not seriously effective. When we cut back the padding, essentially we are creating a new category of disqualification for drink-driving. That is it in a nutshell against a backdrop of major other issues that need to be addressed.
At present, if an experienced driver has more than 80 mg but less than 100 mg per 100 ml of blood, the person will be disqualified for six months under the administrative system. If the person goes to court for the offence, she will face a year of disqualification. By contrast, an experienced driver with a blood alcohol content of more than 100 mg but less than 150 mg who goes to court will face a two-year ban. The Bill creates a new category for disqualification at lower levels of blood alcohol content. This affects an experienced driver with between 50 mg and 80 mg per 100 ml of blood. Such a person will be disqualified for three months under the administrative process as against the current penalty of three penalty points.
I am in two minds. I have listened to the debate. I was particularly struck by the contribution of Deputy Ó Cuív and the points he made around the issue of proportionality. I believe they were important. He made the point that the Bill, if enacted, will have a major and disproportionate effect on those living in Ireland without any access to public transport. Tens of thousands of people have been left to rely on their cars because of generations of abysmal spatial planning, turning a blind eye to one-off houses everywhere and our consistent failure to invest in public transport.
Let us suppose a person in rural Ireland falls foul of this legislation and ends up losing a licence for three months. That person will have to get a taxi to work, if there are even taxis in the area. If the children have to be brought to school, the person is going to have to get taxis to bring them to school, depending on work patterns. This is happening against a backdrop where the Government has viciously cut back on school transport services over recent years. It is something that affects people in rural areas in my constituency and in general. It is an issue I am contacted about frequently. If someone cannot drive and there is no service from the State to pick up the slack and help people to get their children to school, then we have a problem.
Let us suppose a person in Dublin runs up against the legislation and is disqualified. That person can get the bus, train or Luas for three months and it would not be the end of the world. Obviously, it would be a slight inconvenience but it is not really a big deal for such people. For me, that is incredibly unfair. There is a basis to Deputies raising concerns about this.
If there is to be a sanction, then it should apply to all equally rather than penalise some groups more than others. The impact of the penalty because of all the other issues means we are disproportionately impacting one group of people rather than others. In some ways it is a little like the argument for linking fines to income. A €120 clamp-removal fee is nothing to someone earning €100,000 but a great deal for someone on the minimum wage. By not linking fines to income, we are setting up a situation whereby there is one law for the poor and another for the rich. The poor are forced to abide by the law while the rich can do what they like and soak up the sanction. This Bill is a little like that. We are creating a heavy sanction for those in rural areas and a lighter one for those in cities. That is simply a point of fact. It is not right, but it is a consequence of other Government policies.
One could make the argument that all a person has to do is not have a drink at all. If that is the case, we should outlaw the use of alcohol at all levels. Why do we have a discriminatory impact? What if we said there should not be different categories or that we would disqualify anyone even for a small level of alcohol? The reason there are different levels is that there are differences. I believe most adults accept that there is a difference. There is a difference between drunk driving and someone who goes out once a week to collect the pension in a rural area and have a pint and who then drives home on the same rural road that she always drives on. That is part of the way of overcoming isolation and so on. There is a major difference between the person who maybe had had a pint or two all her life and people who go out and have ten pints and then get behind a car when they cannot even put the key in. We have different categories in the first place to recognise that situation. It is going to have a serious impact.
There is an irony or hypocrisy in this. The statistics tell us that if we want to deal with road deaths and appalling tragedies – I fully accept that we all do – then we should start with the main things that cause it. Speeding is a far bigger cause or killer than drink driving, especially in this era. Young people are far better educated now about the negative impact of drink driving. Fewer young people drink drive now than they did in the years when I was growing up. It is frowned upon by society. Already we have created a climate whereby most people accept that it is unacceptable to drive while drunk. It is absolutely frowned upon. I do not think we have reached the same place in terms of speeding, yet speeding has a far bigger impact.
Many of the young men who love their cars do not drink because they are saving money to spend on the car, yet they go out speeding. We need to educate people in that regard. There should be mandatory classes in all schools on road safety, how to use cars and so on.
Another point relates to mobile telephones. I believe it could be scientifically shown in the case of most people, regardless of their physiological composition, that trying to use a mobile telephone while driving is far more dangerous than someone driving after one drink. Using the telephone necessitates the user taking her eye off the road. There is recognition of this point in our legislation now in the context of the different gradings. Again I come back to the point. It is terrible that we have to do it. No doubt when one raises any question, the viewpoint is going to be distorted and somehow portrayed as condoning drunk driving. It comes back to the point that we are talking about changing the penalty at the low level of alcohol in the blood. What we should be doing is dealing with deterrent. It should be a question of how we deter people rather than how we punish people. I do not accept that a punishment of this character is necessarily a deterrent and I have not seen evidence to support that view.
One thing has struck me as ironic. We have so little time and resources in the House to move legislation.
All the emphasis is being put on this as a catch-all but I do not see it. We already have rules in place and there is a bitter irony that, while we are having this discussion and putting it forward as a solution to the problems, we also know what has happened in this State in the recent period. I refer to 2 million phantom breath tests and widespread phantom mandatory alcohol test checkpoints. We have legislation but gardaí mismanaged it by fraudulently returning figures and stating they held checkpoints when that was not the case. Why did that happen? It happened, in part, as a result of the reduction in Garda numbers and traffic corps numbers have been depleted recently. They remain depleted by comparison with what they should be and if we really want safety on our roads, we can help it not so much by changing legislation as by having real checkpoints carrying out real breath tests on people who try to break the law. It would have a greater deterrent impact than any piece of paper on the subject and I am at a loss as to why we have not pushed this forward.
It is not just an issue for rural Ireland, even though there is a big impact there. There are parts of Dublin and other cities where there is a chronic dearth of public transport. It would be remiss of me not to mention my own constituency, where Swords is incredibly poorly served by public transport, despite having a population of over 45,000 and being bigger than Drogheda. Instead, it relies on a private bus service and a Dublin bus service that comes nowhere near to delivering to our population. We hear a lot of talk about metro north, which has been going on for years and years, but nothing has happened. One would find it very difficult to get around if one lived in Fingal without a car. Given the size of the population, this state of affairs is genuinely mind-boggling. People in both rural and urban areas deserve the choice of getting public transport to wherever they want to go but, instead of moving with the times and increasing public transport provision, we are facing massive fines for missing our emissions targets and the Government is coming up with hare-brained bus routes which are put out to tender for private companies, something the dogs on the streets could say will not properly service the areas in question but will simply force more people back into their cars. This just creates a vicious circle.
I am in two minds about this Bill and I do not know how I view it. I know for sure, however, that it is not the solution to the problems on our roads. I am highly sceptical that it will make even a bit of a difference. Deputy Ó Broin said it might save one life but I am not sure it will even do that. The Bill deals with a lower level of alcohol against a backdrop in which there is no enforcement. If there is no enforcement, the most vicious and penalising policy will not make a blind bit of difference.
Deputy Ó Cuív made the excellent point that the Bill disproportionately punishes people who are already suffering the effects of terrible Government policy in the shape of a lack of investment in public transport and the gutting of many rural areas, with the social and mental health problems that go with that. In terms of proportionality, this is poor legislation. We all want to put an end to drink-driving deaths but I have not heard sufficient argument to convince me this is the best or fairest way to achieve that goal. I do not think it takes enough of an overview of modern Irish society and the increasing prevalence, for example, of drug use. If we were really serious about these issues we would deal with them from the point of view of planning, public transport, investment on our roads, and our education system to provide a deterrent and awareness. Critically, we would approach it from the point of view of enforcement of the legislation already there.
I look forward to hearing the rest of the debate because, with my hand on my heart, I cannot say what way I feel about the Bill at the moment.
As Deputy Daly said, no one in here condones people who drink and drive and our hearts go out to people who have lost family members as a result of drink-driving. As legislators, however, we have to ask if our legislation has worked for people who are three or four times over the limit, as is the case in 93% of those caught in cases where people have been killed. The answer, realistically, is "no".
Over Christmas I heard comments linked with the Minister to the effect that Deputies were filibustering and holding up legislation that would have saved people's lives. There is a process in the Dáil whereby all elected Deputies have a right to represent their views and the views of those who went to the ballot box and voted for them. There is a committee system and there are Senators who also have a right to represent their views, so even if the Bill had gone through the Dáil on the day before Christmas it would still have had hurdles to overcome. Levelling such accusations at Deputies is not a good idea. Nobody condones someone who drives having drunk way over the limit but we have to ensure we recognise the severity of any crime which has taken place. With this Bill, however, we are deciding to put people with between 50 mg and 80 mg of alcohol in their blood off the road.
I come from and understand rural Ireland. We do not have the Luas, Dublin Bus or the DART running until midnight so that we could have a social drink and get home by public transport. People who live in rural areas are and will continue to be treated in a disproportionate way, not only in this area but in respect of many other issues. If we want to apportion blame for the loss of lives we have to look at the history of Governments down through the years.
We have seen report after report stating that 14% of the roads are not fit to travel on and have caused accidents. Will anything be done about that or will we hear of that coming out? No, for the simple reason that it costs money. The traffic corps came up in the programme for Government. We have heard announcement after announcement that it was going up to a higher level than was the case going back the years. Unfortunately, that has never been done. No matter what legislation is in place, unless we have feet on the street we will never solve it. Of course, that costs money and the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, might not like opening the purse strings. It is easier to put in legislation that has a disproportionate effect in rural parts of Ireland.
I heard so-called solutions coming from the Government just before Christmas, when it was trying to soften its own Deputies, to the effect that we would get 35 buses. When people go to a pub for a night out - down the country anyhow, they might do it differently in Dublin - they go between the hours of 9 p.m. and 12 midnight. If the 35 buses were driving at their maximum speed without picking up anyone, for three hours at night without going up a by-road or a back road, for those three hours all 35 would be needed in County Galway alone, where there are 5,000 km of road. If we divide that by the number of buses, without the drivers even pulling up to bring anyone, they would not even cover County Galway. It is a red herring trying to soften the blow and telling people the Government is going to do something down the way.
Unfortunately, in 63% of accidents in which people have lost their lives there is basically no drink and no real answers. We have to be mindful of statistics. My understanding is that the statistics we have are based on the years 2008 to 2012. With the best will in the world for the top echelons of the Garda Síochána, some of the statistics we have got over the past year or two have not been what I would call very accurate.
We have an organisation called the Road Safety Authority, RSA. I sat on the transport committee of the previous Dáil and the RSA appeared before it. We decided that we would bring up ways of trying to save lives and to help young people who are scourged with the cost of insurance through no fault of their own. I am fairly familiar with lorries. It is possible to put a limiter into a lorry, which no doubt can be done with cars. It is actually easier now because they can be programmed on the computer system. I put it forward that we would give every young person insurance, the same as me or anybody else who has been driving for a good few years with a clean licence, providing they were willing to put in such a limiter until they were 23, 24 or 25. In fairness, some of them are very good drivers. Let us not tar all of them with the one brush. Was it done? No, because it was not attractive to do. If we found a solution to bring down insurance, it would not fit and the insurance companies would probably give us the two fingers anyhow. All they are interested in is making sure these youngsters are paying premium rates.
I also see this new thing coming in regarding the learner drivers. While we are great at bringing in legislation, we are not that fond of bringing in solutions. I have checked and am correct that there are waiting lists of up to six months in some places for doing a driving test. All I hear is that it will be sorted but that is the reality on the ground. While the Minister might be used to his Luas and his DART and all his different public transport methods, in rural parts of Ireland, especially on family farms where families are living on an income of €15,000 to €18,000, where families try to give the next generation a chance of going to college, they often cannot afford the exorbitant rates in the likes of Dublin, Limerick, Cork and Galway where the colleges are situated. Those people have bought cars for their youngsters but now they will have to sit in the cars with them, go to college and come back again.
Why do we not bring in a solution in which we put a place in every county like Mondello Park, where people could do an intensive two, three or four days - whatever it takes - or two weekends? There would be someone there to provide a certificate stating that while the person has a learner permit, he or she has gone through a certain amount of intensive training and is fit to drive on the road until he or she gets to do the test, given the current waiting lists. However, as that probably would be using our heads and making it a bit easier for people, the answer is "no". Given the disproportionate lack of public transport, some of those 17 or 18 year-olds will be deprived of college because of this as unfortunately, their parents will not be able to afford what is needed.
It is well known - this is not just during the Minister's tenure but in the past four, five, six or seven years - that the roads budget is down 40% from what is was in 2008 in certain counties. If it is that much down, one definitely will not have the quality of roads that is required. The Minister sat within at the programme for Government discussions. One of the first things that was put in it was that the west of Ireland would be brought in for TEN-T funding. The Minister's comrade, Deputy Enda Kenny, was to the fore in that regard along with myself. The present Taoiseach, however, decided he would take the west of Ireland out of it and make sure that the likes of Foynes and other areas like Cork and Dublin were tied in, while the whole of the Border, midlands and western region was taken out of it. That was one of the first things written into the programme for Government in order that we would get better quality roads. Was it done? Was it looked at? Was anything even stirred in it? When I last checked before Christmas, the answer was "No".
Then we talk about trying to save lives. I ask myself what type of a society we are becoming. I saw a 90 year-old man who went to the pub every night for two glasses of beer. With the talk and the fear that exists about all this, unfortunately the gentleman has become a prisoner within his own home. We talk about rural isolation. Whether it is a cup of tea, a glass of beer or Guinness or a mineral, we must understand that bit of communication is important to many people, especially in the west where there is a large percentage of elderly people who would like to go out for a glass or two.
There is a fear of even going out on the road. That is what the Bill is doing in terms of drink-driving legislation.
I know our hearts have to go out to all of the families who have lost people and we have to remember them. What will solve the problem of the driver who is three, four or five times over the limit? What will stop people doing that?
There is another side to this issue. Every family, including mine, has somebody belonging to them who has a problem with drink. Solving that problem and turning a new leave over in a book will help the family and the person concerned. We need to consider all of the different angles in trying to resolve this issue. Everyone wants safe roads. That is undeniable. Everyone wants to make sure that people are not killed. A person walking down a road who has drink on him or her is entered into the statistics as a drink-driving accident, but it is not determined whether the person walking on a road or the driver had been drinking. It is simply recorded as a road traffic accident where drink was involved.
Speed is a major problem. Before the Minister goes forward with legislation, he needs to bring in solutions. Unfortunately, down through the years Governments have been very good at introducing legislation and think it will solve everything. We can have all of the legislation in the world from every Department, but unfortunately that does not work.
County councils are doing their best with the funds they have. The Minister will make announcements in the coming months. Whether the Minister for Finance and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, likes it, the Minister, Deputy Ross, needs to get a budget which will enable infrastructure to be put in place.
We have many problems in rural parts of Ireland. It is one of the best places one could live. Knowingly or unknowingly, however, Departments seem hell-bent on making sure that they try to drive people away from rural Ireland. The national planning framework does not want to allow one-off housing in rural parts of Ireland.
We also have to be mindful of people who may go out at night with their partners and families and have a few drinks. The following morning they are lambs to the slaughter because they run into a checkpoint. The problem is that they do not know whether they are over the limit if they had a few drinks night before.
The Minister should rethink the Bill because it is punitive for rural Ireland. The Minister is sounding the final death knell for rural pubs which have struggled for the past number of years. It will finish off the sector. Is that a legacy the he wants? Other solutions have been given to the RSA. Funnily enough, it seems hellbent on picking up on this aspect.
People who passed their tests years ago have been told that because records are not available due to the fact that everything was burned in 1990, they have to prove something which cannot be proven. People cannot pull trailers even though they have been doing so for the past 20 years. That is the type of thing that is happening.
Lorry owners have submitted their lorries for testing. It cost one man €750 because the test was due. He booked his lorry in and there were a few small issues. He had to transport a load of cattle but the lorry was taken from him. That is what happened to a small business in a small part of Ireland. I hope the Minister takes on the board what I have said. People in rural parts of Ireland should not be disproportionately affected by the Bill.
Buses will not solve the problem because about 1,000 of them would be needed. They cannot travel on boreens, back roads and by roads. The Minister may have a bigger problem in terms of rural isolation. I ask the Minister not to sound the final death knell for rural parts of Ireland and their pubs.
Like Deputy Ó Broin, I have sat in the parlours of the homes of families who have lost people as result of drink-driving. It is not a very pleasant experience. I am sure many of my colleagues have done the same. Speaking from the point of view of the profession from which I come, I have perhaps a more intimate knowledge of the destruction caused by deaths from drinking and driving.
The central premise of Bill is to change the penalty in respect of drinking and driving. It is not a proposal to lower the limit. In that regard, it is a very warranted measure and I will support the Bill. The motivation behind the legislation is to save lives and avoid injury to those who drive above the limit, their passengers and other road users. We are not just talking about drivers, but a much wider group of people who will be affected by the Bill.
This is not an urban or rural issue; rather it is a national issue. It is not about the driver or the pub. It is about the death and serious injury of people on the roads. It is about changing people's attitudes to alcohol in general and drink and driving in particular. We have a very serious problem in this country in regard to alcohol. To compound that by not taking drinking and driving seriously is negligent in the extreme.
Road safety depends on many factors, including speed, road quality, the roadworthiness of cars, weather conditions, carelessness, tiredness, inexperience and driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Road safety is multifactorial. Like many issues in our society, there is no one factor. Many factors add to death and serious injury on our roads. We should take every opportunity to try to reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries on our roads. We should remember that a car is a lethal weapon and if it is used in an irresponsible manner, it leads to very serious consequences.
I wish to refer to two issues.
This is a public health issue on two counts. It is a public health issue in relation to preventing injury and death on our roads. It is designed to protect drivers, passengers, pedestrians and fellow road users, their neighbours and friends. Many accidents happen within the locality of the driver, possibly injuring or killing himself or herself or people who live in the community.
Road fatalities are not the only statistic on which we should measure the proposed legislation. When we are discussing road safety we must also remember that many more people are seriously injured than die on the roads, perhaps by a factor of ten. Many of the injuries are very serious and life changing. If one visits the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, one will see many people there who have spinal injuries and brain injuries as a result of road traffic accidents, which have life-long consequences. They are not injuries that people get over lightly. We should not just discuss this measure in terms of road deaths on the basis that it saves ten, 20 or 30 deaths, but that one might save hundreds of people serious, life-changing consequences. That must be used as a measure and not just deaths on the roads.
It is also a public health issue in terms of bringing home to people the excessive level alcohol consumption that goes on in this country. Although Ireland is not unique in this regard, we have a serious problem with alcohol consumption. We all received a glass today in our office indicating the safe level of alcohol consumption. It is 11 units for women and 17 units for men. There is a safe level of alcohol which we must consider. Liver failure is now a disease of young people and the consumption of alcohol is a concern. Binge drinking in this country is very serious. We must speak also about the public health aspect of alcohol in society.
Fianna Fáil is opposed to the Bill. One of the main reasons for its opposition is because drivers may be stopped the morning after the night before and be found to be above the legal alcohol level. That is a very spurious argument because it does not matter what time of the day or night one is over the limit, one is still over the limit and if one is over the limit, one is a danger to oneself and other road users. If one is over the limit on one's way to work and one gets to work without being detected, then one is putting one's fellow workers at risk due to the level of alcohol in one's blood if one is operating a machine, on scaffolding or driving as an occupation. The Fianna Fáil position is all the more surprising given that it introduced a smoking ban in public places which was a wonderful public health initiative and it has now become self-policing because if one smokes a cigarette in a public place now, it is the members of the public who will police one and not the authorities. I hope that in years to come that will be the case with alcohol as well. It is disappointing that Fianna Fáil is opposing the Bill, especially on that spurious ground.
I wish to address the issue of social isolation, in particular in rural areas although we should also bear in mind that there is substantial social isolation in urban areas too. Going to the pub is not an answer to social isolation. Not everybody drinks alcohol or enjoys the pub culture. In fact, I think the majority of people in rural areas do not use the pub and drink and drive home. The majority do not drink and should not be put at risk by those who do. Many social activities happen in rural areas which have nothing to do with alcohol. My local community centre is used seven nights a week. The biggest card night in the community is held there and it is alcohol-free. Tea and scones are served. It is the most well attended card night in the area. People are home by 11 p.m. Many people are driven there by their relatives and also driven home by them. I do not see why that cannot happen if people want to go to the pub. In our community, we also have arts and crafts, computer studies, local history and many other social activities so going to the pub is not the mainstay of activities in rural areas.
Rural society is much more resilient than depending on the pub culture. I come from a rural area and I have heard many speakers say that this Bill will make people house-bound, but I do not believe that for a moment. Enjoying alcohol sensibly in pubs is good for some people. There is no denying that, but drinking and driving should not be part of that enjoyment. Rural Ireland should not be seen as revolving around the pub culture and, unfortunately, many activities, even sporting activities for young people, revolve around presentations in pubs. That is a serious issue because it sends the wrong message to young people.
There is a growing sense of responsibility among young people in rural and urban areas. There is a sense that it is no longer acceptable to drink and drive. That is beginning to grow among young people and it is evident in other age groups as well. Our efforts should be concentrated on a much broader range of measures to address social isolation, which does not involve alcohol. Not all alcohol is consumed in pubs. Many people drink at home and then get into their cars and drive, or they go to their friends or acquaintances and drink alcohol and drive. The Bill is not directed entirely at the pub trade, rather at the principle of not drinking and driving. The point is that if one drinks, wherever it is, one should not drive, regardless of whether that is in the pub, at home or in a friend's house.
We now know that losing one's driving licence for three months is the consequence of driving while over the alcohol limit. That is a very important message to get out to people, namely, that there is a limit of 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. That does not confine one to having no alcohol as it allows one to have a drink, but I would recommend that people who have a drink should not drive. Deputy Ó Broin referred to the fact that he would not go on social media after a drink and I would strongly recommend that. I would also strongly recommend that one does not go on a gambling website after having a drink so why would one get into a car and drive after a drink? The legislation provides leeway and a tolerance for 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood and that is a reasonable limit.
It is scientifically proven that there is an escalating reduction in reaction time when one drinks. The more one drinks, the worse one's reaction time will be, so if one is under the 50 mg, one's reaction time is still affected but the law will give one some leeway. That has to be considered. There is a myth that people drive much better after a couple of pints. Of course that is completely ludicrous. There is also a myth that if one has a large meal, one is going to be a danger on the road. That is also something which cannot be believed. Alcohol is a drug and it can be dangerous. If misused, it can be lethal so it is not something to be dismissed lightly. There is a ripple effect in terms of deaths and injuries on the roads. If someone is killed for any reason involving alcohol, that affects the person's family, friends, work colleagues and community. Hundreds of people are affected by it for the rest of their lives. It is not just one person, but many, who are affected by each incident on the road. The issue should not be measured purely on the number of deaths but on the number of very serious injuries that also occur.
I believe there is overwhelming support for this Bill.
The Irish Road Victims' Association held a vigil outside the Dáil a number of months ago at which it had a candle for each person killed on the roads in the previous year. There were 198 candles. When one passes something like that, it brings home to one the extent of the problem. Of course, not all 198 victims were killed because of alcohol, but a significant number were. As many speakers have said this evening, if we can save even one life, it will be worthwhile. This legislation will save many more than one and must be taken seriously.
The RSA was spoken about tonight. I have great respect for it. The number of deaths on our roads has diminished substantially in recent years. There used to be 400 or 500 deaths per year; now there are 200, as a result of many measures to improve road safety. Drink-driving is one factor that affects road safety. It is not often that we have a Bill in this House that can save lives directly. This is one such Bill. As a result, I commend it to the House.
A Leas-Cheann Comhairle-----
Has the Deputy already spoken?
I have a point of order.
The Deputy has already spoken so he is not entitled to speak again. What is the point of order?
I am raising the matter of the empty benches where the Government Deputies sit and beside me here where the Fianna Fáil Members sit. The two largest parties in the country, which have enjoyed support from around rural Ireland for decades, or for a hundred years-----
I am calling a quorum. Where are they? This is an important matter that is affecting all of rural Ireland.
When the Deputy calls a quorum, he cannot continue.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Many have spoken on it and on the issue of drink-driving. If one spoke to everybody in this House regarding drink-driving, one would realise each knows somebody who died from it. Unfortunately, I know people who have died from it. If this Bill saves one life, it will be worth it.
Unfortunately, many people are killed on our roads every year. Last year, in the region of 157 to 160 people died. Many of these deaths were not due to drink-driving. Many were because of young people driving at speed and because of people losing control of their cars. Many of the RSA messages on the television at night are about people who use their phone when driving. There are many reasons people get killed on our roads. In some cases, deaths are attributable to the state of the roads in the countryside.
With this Bill, the Minister is trying to do what he believes is right, that is, reduce the number of deaths on our roads. This should be achieved in conjunction with implementing other measures. There should be more policing. I believe many more people are killed on the roads due to speed and using mobile phones, particularly for texting. One loses sight of what one does when using a phone to send text messages.
Unfortunately, in rural Ireland we do not have a proper public transport system. When the Minister is summing up and taking Committee and Report Stages of this Bill, I urge him to come up with a scheme that could provide some sort of transport service in rural areas. People living in major towns and cities do not have to worry about this Bill because they have public transport. They can get on the bus at 7 p.m. and come home at 9 p.m. after a few drinks. Unfortunately, in rural Ireland we do not have a public transport system. In conjunction with the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport should consider putting a scheme in place so publicans could provide a transport system that would enable customers to be brought home after going out to enjoy a drink, particularly at the weekends. Perhaps the car provided by the publican could be exempt from vehicle registration tax or road tax, or some sort of grant scheme could be put in place to allow somebody to drive people home in the rural countryside.
Rural towns and villages are suffering. Many local GAA clubs are not able to field a hurling or football team due to emigration. Recently, a gentleman in north Connemara told me some parishes there cannot field a GAA team. Perth in Australia, however, which had not one single GAA team seven years ago, now has nine.
When I was 19 years of age, I got my first job and bought my first car. My father, in his later years, used to love to go out for a few pints every evening at 7 o'clock. I used to pick him up to bring him home around 9.30 p.m. or 10 o'clock. I would not only just bring home my father but give a lift to five other elderly people who had been in the pub. I could do that at the time. Unfortunately now however, there are not many young people in many towns and villages who can offer that service to bring home a few elderly people who might want a few pints in the evening. Will the Minister examine some sort of a scheme which could give back to rural areas?
Some Members spoke about the cause of traffic accidents on rural roads. If one looks at the side roads and byroads, the briars and bushes cannot be cut until certain times of the year. This also causes accidents and needs to be examined.
Will the Minister look at some scheme to keep pubs in rural areas open? For many elderly people living in rural areas, the only person they might meet is the postman delivering the mail or when they go to Sunday mass. I know of one instance of an individual who used to pick up his pension, regular as clockwork at 2.30 p.m. every Tuesday, at his local post office, have a few pints and then drive home. One Tuesday, he did not collect his pension. The postmistress called the local gardaí who went to his house to discover he had fallen and broken his hip. Will the Minister look at a scheme, along with the Minister for Finance, whereby several publicans could buy a car, which would be exempt from the VRT, to transport people in rural areas to the local pubs?
I am delighted to speak on the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017. Any fatality on the roads is one too many. I send my profound sympathies to those families who have lost loved ones. I say that from the bottom of my heart. I have met families whose family members were either killed or injured on the roads due to drink driving.
Members raise issues here which are of significant concern to their constituents. We are elected by our constituents and we have to make up our own minds on legislation and deal with it when it comes before us. However, we are treated by colleagues here and elements of the media as pariahs when we raise concerns, whether on the eighth amendment, road traffic legislation, the failing agricultural economy and the fodder crisis. There is this kind of disdain shown to us and we are told to move on from this because it is distant. We are a small island country off the west coast of Europe that depends on the agricultural economy and the whole fabric of rural Ireland.
The Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, has been a good friend of mine over the past nine years. We have had many a robust debate on this Bill. When he came to Tipperary on his way back from west Cork one evening, my daughter, Máirín, and I took him to look at a bridge in Aherlow. We took the Minister in my daughter's car for a short drive along 18 miles. We showed him eight pubs along the route which had been closed. I am not speaking on behalf of the vintners. I have met the vintners once on this Bill but we meet lobbyists all the time. Every pub pays rates, income tax and staff wages.
Deputy Harty is more qualified than I am to speak about the impact of alcohol and meals on people. However, in many rural areas, the pub is the last place standing. Many rural areas do not have other venues such as a community hall or a hotel. It is unfortunate that many presentations after matches are made in public houses. However, it can be the only place available. Pubs do a great service. Some of them have kept lounges which are used occasionally on which they pay rates. They are maintained to a reasonable standard for functions such as after funerals. Funerals in rural areas allow the community to come together to empathise and sympathise with a family over a loss. It shows how the community spirit and meitheal is still alive and well.
I was involved in the talks for the programme for Government. One point we drove home every day in the talks, which the Minister sought with his Independents group, was the rural-proofing of legislation. It has got worse now, however. We were told by the then Taoiseach during those talks that every Bill would be rural-proofed but none of them is. If this Bill were rural-proofed, there would be a wide range of provisions in it to address these rural concerns.
The Bill's explanatory memorandum states:
The Bill will remove the penalty points option in certain cases and thereby ensure that all drivers intercepted while driving over the legal alcohol limit will receive a disqualification. In place of the current three penalty points provided in these cases, the Bill will introduce a three-month disqualification period.
The car is a vital mode of transport in rural areas. Fianna Fáil has suggested amendments. The Rural Independent Group will also be tabling amendments. We feel this Bill is too harsh and has not been rural-proofed.
One day Deputy Heydon threw out a figure of €1 million for rural transport schemes. I was a founder member of Ring A Link in south Tipperary, Carlow and Kilkenny. I know the costs involved and €1 million would not even cover a feasibility study, never mind putting on buses in rural areas. We tried to provide a Christmas bus service for four villages, but it did not work out, even with the best will in the world. Deputy Heydon's €1 million was only a sop to appease people's concerns about this legislation.
Rural areas are hammered every day of the week and are abandoned. The latest OECD figures show that 52% of all economic activity in this country is inside the Pale and Dublin. That is not good or healthy. If the unfortunate homeless people in this city had a car, they would sleep in it. However, we see people in different rural towns sleeping in cars. Rural Ireland is sadly forgotten.
"Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad? Tá deireadh na gcoillte ar lár." The Minister's Irish may not be great. At the rate I speak it, he might not understand it.
"Caoine Cill Cháis".
The RSA does much good work but it is all too powerful and has too much of a say. I had an issue with the regulations around the laden weight of a three-axle vehicle which the Minister addressed with the stroke of a pen.
Countless Ministers have refused to sign this statutory instrument for 13 years. The current Minister signed it - perhaps not knowing about the consequences or perhaps he wanted to sign it - and it did huge damage to the rural hauliers. They were trying to haul milk, corn, grain or whatever. The axle was vital. It was put down and held. They had to handle the cost of that. Many had to get rid of their lorries, which they had only bought new. That had a huge impact. There was no impact assessment or rural-proofing of the legislation. These trucks can travel on the motorways all they like but not on rural roads. I know the argument is made that rural roads are damaged by the weight of these lorries but the more axles they have, the less damage will be done. The Minister signed that statutory instrument.
I commend the Minister on the recent matter of tractors travelling above a speed of 40 km/h. Again, the RSA was involved in this regard. The relevant instrument was signed in the middle of the consultation. There was consultation with the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA, and other organisations and indeed the Association of Farm Contractors Ireland. They were all coming to a follow-on consultation meeting in Kildare one afternoon and discovered when they arrived that the Minister had signed the statutory instrument. I brought this to the Minister's attention and, to his credit, he said that the matter would have to be renegotiated because it would have a huge impact. The farcical part about it was that tractors travelling at 40 km/h or above were going to be put off the road. Such vehicles could not travel at just 15 km/h. Where I live, one could not get from Dungarvan to the mart or to Castlemartyr. If one got a tractor that was 20 years old and had the lowest box, it could be very defective but one could drive at 100 mph if one liked. This is the kind of crazy thinking that goes on in the Road Safety Authority.
I know a wonderful young man, Jason Maher, from Cahir in County Tipperary, who is a good entrepreneur with a great brain. The Minister spoke to him. Mr. Maher is passionate about a tyre application. Half the cars in the country, unknown to us, have tyres that are below the approved grip level. Many of the tyres on vehicles in the car park outside the House might be below the approved grip. How are we supposed to know? This young man when to great expense and offered great expertise and advice and the Minister's Department organised a meeting with the head of the Road Safety Authority. He closed his premises early one Sunday night, drove to Sligo and stayed at a bed and breakfast establishment in order to be at the meeting with the boss of the Road Safety Authority. He turned up but the man from the authority never did. That is the contempt the authority has for new initiatives on road safety. This tyre application would inform a register and people would get a text when the tyres on their vehicles had a certain amount of miles done or were unsafe. In this inclement weather, one needs good new tyres. This is the kind of contempt the RSA shows. It has too much power and is not policing where it should be policing. I am saying that honestly and fairly.
I have a certain amount of contempt for many of these quangos. We had the National Roads Authority, NRA. One could not talk to it. We have experience of being on county councils where we want to get a sign moved or something else done on a national or primary road. I have said many times that we had a peace process. The late Alec Reid and a former colleague here, Martin Mansergh, were a great assistance with it. We got rid of the IRA and we got the NRA. That was fearful. Thank God the authority is not into violent acts but it is destroying economies and not listening to anybody. The young man to whom I refer travelled to Sligo with his initiative and had to go home again because a person did not bother to go and meet him. That is where matters stand. His application was excellent. We have many issues with our roads besides what we are talking about and that tyre application is one solution.
I want to salute An Garda Síochána regarding its work in Tipperary, Dublin and throughout the country and in Dublin. In particular, I salute the traffic corps. The numbers in the corps have sadly been diminished despite the work it has done. We are spending a fortune on Gatso vans, the speed vans that we have, the operators of which have refused my request to the Minister's Department and from county councils to come to places in Dublin and Tipperary where multiple fatalities have taken place in order to try to do something with the traffic there and to test people if they are driving at reckless speeds. They will not do so and instead want to go to places where they make money. This is a money-making racket. I want that crowd to be disbanded and the money to be put into the traffic corps. Augment the traffic corps, give it a larger fleet and more members. In a reply to parliamentary questions I tabled in 2016, I found that the State had paid almost €88 million to private speed cameras firms and collected just €32.7 million from motorists' fines. That represents many people being caught and fined. It is a trick, really. One could be travelling in a place with an 80 km/h limit, which suddenly drops to 60 km/h and then, almost immediately, to 50 km/h. I do not drive fast. I am not saying that I never broke the speed limit but I do not drive fast. Any of us could get caught in an area where the limit suddenly drops to 50 km/h. There are places where there are three different speed limits in 200 yds or less. A total of €88 million was paid out for a return of €32 million. That is not very profitable, although the quango does all right.
I am questioning the costs of operating the Garda safety camera contract because each year from 2012 to 2015 it cost the State over €17 million to maintain that contract. These are the kinds of lucrative contracts we have signed up to, such as the toll bridges. There is no cop on. Many of us here are in business and if we signed any kind of contract such as that, we would quickly be out of business. The waste is shameful and outrageous. We will go home to talk to people tomorrow evening. I resent the fact that this Bill is down to be debated tomorrow, Thursday, evening for three and a half hours. Those of us from rural Ireland, whether north, south, east, or west, all know that if one is not out of this city by 3 p.m., one should forget about it until 7 p.m. since this is where all the logjams occur. One can get jammed in not too far away from here because there is an attempt to widen a motorway which was designed incorrectly 25 years ago and which does not have a sufficient number of intersections. Where is the accountability for that and the millions that were spent? What about the money coming in from National Toll Roads Limited and where is it going? Is it being ploughed back into the system? It is not. It is all privatised in shameful deals. We have regulators for this, that and the other.
In the last three years here, we could not walk for all the investment. The new Luas is open now and I notice the Minister did not get the opportunity to open it. Our €5 million whizz-kid, the Taoiseach, took the job of announcing that one day with his PR machine. It was €6 million or €5 million. I am not anti-Dublin at all but in the context of investment in Dublin, anything goes. Only three transport infrastructural projects were announced in the most recent budget and they were all in Dublin. One goes a little into Kildare but it would not be any good to the Ceann Comhairle going home because it does not go that far. It is all Dublin-centric. We are doing this to the detriment of rural Ireland. I have travelled on the Luas, with all its investments, and it is a great system, but then we got congestion and bedlam and nobody could go anywhere. The Taoiseach and his entourage were caught up in it. These people are not the experts that they think they are at all.
The Minister has done nothing to deal with the emissions targets. I will not say what I was going to say, but he has done nothing. There is an insurance scandal and the Minister has a bee in his bonnet. The last men who had that were the former Minister, Noel Dempsey, and Gay Byrne. They were going to lock up every learner driver, or their parents, if they were caught alone on the road. I have to be honest and say that some learner drivers I knew travelled unaccompanied. I am all for putting a penalty on it, putting a speed restriction on them or dealing with some of these absolutely awful drivers. How are people going to educate their children and send them to college? We cannot just drop them to the Luas, the DART or a bus station. We do not have those in rural Ireland. How are young people going to travel to work? We are trying to regrow our economy and restart it, and to educate our young people. How are they going to get to work? They have to have a car. I bought a car for €1,500 for my 17 year old last August. He is 18 now and the car is parked up. I got a lovely car, formerly owned by a lady driver, but I could not get insurance since it was €4,800. Where is one going to go? There is a racket and scandal going on in insurance, such as the Minister was able to write over the decades. I admire much of what he put in his columns over the decades - he could do everything. I support the Minister's legislation on judges and what he was doing with the Judiciary, but we expected so much from him. The people of rural Ireland have been badly let down.
In saying that, I want to thank the Minister for coming down to projects in Tipperary and trying to help out with issues-----
I did not laugh at Deputy Jonathan O'Brien.
I ought to have brought my glasses.
The Deputy's mother is from Tipperary and he is laughing at Tipperary.
Can I have the protection of the Chair?
I give credit where credit is due, and always would but these issues are sadly lacking and the RSA is not doing what it should be doing, nor are many other quangos. If they were, the insurance cartels would be broken. We have regulators for insurance too. What is going on with young people is an abomination. They are being destroyed and their fathers and mothers are being broken with the pain from trying to pay for them. With the costs of staying in college, people have to have cars. We set up a committee two years ago which came up with 28 recommendations. Three would have been enough but the insurance rip-off still goes on. That is the fact of it. It is fine for people to laugh. I think some of them represent rural constituencies so I do not know what they are laughing at-----
Perhaps it was an internal joke and we will presume that. It was no reflection.
Knowing the Deputies, it would certainly seem that way.
Fine. I give credit where credit is due, to any party, including Deputy Ó Broin on the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, and others on different issues.
I ask the Minister to address the matter of drug-driving tests.
On the issue of drug-driving, I got a text message from a member of An Garda Síochána based in a station in a big town in rural Ireland with a picture of a box and a "Do Not Use" sign on it. I have asked about the number of drug-driving tests a few times.
I am being distracted all over the place now. The Chair will have to give me extra time.
I am sorry. I am sorting out the rota.
I got a picture message of a box about the size of the Chair's desk with a "Do Not Touch" sticker on it. It was drug testing equipment but it could not be touched because none of the gardaí had been trained to use it. What is the Minister doing about drug-driving? I do not condone it. When he replies, I want the Minister to tell me what is being done about drug-driving. How many testers are being used? A couple of years ago, there were none because the legislation had only been passed. Fair play is fine play with me but there is not fair play. This is a soft touch and it is easy to get this legislation through without doing an impact assessment on what will happen to rural Ireland.
We will have multiple parishes with one parish priest. He will not be able to say the second mass because, as the House will know, in the Catholic Church, priests have to consume wine. The limit will be so low that he will not be able to say the second mass unless someone collects him and brings him. That is not a joke; that is a fact. With the diminishing number of priests in our diocese and in other dioceses around us, there are not enough priests to say multiple masses.
I was responsible for setting up Ring a Link, which has done Trojan work for rural transport. We had a launch a year after it started and we had letters from people who said it was like opening the gates of Mountjoy and being released. These people in rural Ireland have no access to any transport. Even if they could afford a taxi, there is none available. I could not get a taxi in many towns in Tipperary at the weekend because the drivers will only do short runs, and they cannot be blamed for that. They do not work on Sunday or Monday nights because the business is not there. The Minister could do an awful lot and he should look at this area.
The night I drove him around the scenic Glen of Aherlow, I showed him all the pubs that have closed in the past ten years from the Lady Gregory to the Silver Sands to the Cosy Kitchen to the Foot Bar to the Caravansary to the Glen Hotel and back to O'Heney's in Bansha. These business people were paying rates and employing staff. This is a huge attack on rural Ireland. The pub was the centre of activity, and not just for drinkers. I know many people who go to the pub and who do not drink at all. It is a social occasion and they have meetings, funeral afters and so on. A number of us in the Rural Independent Group will press the question to a vote later and we will table amendments on Committee Stage to go back to the drawing board with the legislation.
I ask the Minister to please look at road blocks. I did not even mention Galway where one cannot get from one side of the city to the other. Deputy Eamon Scanlon referred to the N4 and the blockages over the years. The congestion in Dublin causes a great deal of frustration for businesses and motorists as they try to drive from A to B. There is a huge volume of work to be done. I ask the Minister to go back to the drawing board and work with us. I resent the fact that he said we are working at the behest of the vintners. I am not raising these issues at the behest of any vintner and I do not have a vested interest. I do not have a pub, I never owned a pub and I do not ever intend to have a pub, but I frequent many of them for clinics and social activities and they are all run by business people whom I want to support.
The Minister should ensure a level playing field. Drug testing should be rolled out because the effects of drug taking are much more serious but Deputy Harty could explain that better.
The final issue I would like to raise relates to the waterways. I raised the issue of two young men from Golden in Tipperary who lost their lives off Helvick Bay a few years ago. There is no policing on the waterways. People are driving all kinds of vehicles.
The time has expired.
I am only 30 seconds over. I lost time to two interruptions. I am the final speaker before the Minister replies and I would like some leeway.
The Deputy has ten seconds.
The new report on that incident has not been finalised by the Garda. Their lives were taken in a serious incident which was not properly investigated. The Garda Síochána has no way of getting out to the bay. I fully support the Garda and I ask the Minister to please support the force and the traffic corps, in particular.
The Deputy's injury time is expired.
They should be given the powers and the tools because when they are doing a checkpoint, if there is a robbery or something else happens nearby, they are despatched to it. The vans sit there on their merry way and they will probably get the gardaí on their way to catch the robbers if they go past a few kilometres over the speed limit.
The Deputy has had one minute of injury time.
I was interrupted twice.
I thank everybody who contributed to the debate not only tonight, but on previous nights. In some cases, they were extremely constructive. The debate has been marked this evening by a lack of willingness to address the issue and a complete lack of recognition of the fact that the Bill is about one thing and one thing only, which is saving lives. It is not about Garda enforcement, speeding, mobile telephones or other issues that have been raised; it is about saving lives. Deputy O'Broin opened this evening's debate on a sombre but relevant note when he said that he did not know how many lives this measure will save, and nor do I, but he also said that he was sure that it would save some. I do not know, but then nobody does. There has to be a recognition, which has been notably absent from this debate, that alcohol is a dangerous substance to be carrying in one's body when one is driving a car. Apart from the contributions of Deputies O'Broin, Harty and Grealish, the debate has been notable for the fact that there has been no suggestion by any Member of a solution to the problem of alcohol and driving. The debate is being used as a platform for coming up with all the ills affecting certain parts of Ireland but without any solutions to the issue that the Bill addresses.
I will yield to no one in the attention I have given to rural Ireland since I came into the Department. The Deputy referenced one trip to Tipperary. How many trips have I made?
At least three. I have visited Deputy Collin's constituency and I have been to Galway, which Deputy Grealish represents. I have been everywhere I have been asked to go and I will continue to do that. There is no absolutely impetus, direction or interest on my part in attacking rural Ireland-----
On a point of order-----
I will decide if it is a point of order.
We were elected as individual Members and we spent 60 days trying to form a government.
Every Minister has a duty to visit the people.
It is a responsibility and a duty to look after all the people of Ireland.
I am as certain now as I was at the start of the debate that there is agreement on the danger posed by drink-driving and agreement on the need to tackle it firmly in our laws, even if we do not always agree on how best to tackle it. I would like to thank those who have supported this very important proposal to strengthen the law on drink-driving. I know there are those who still argue against what I am proposing. I believe I have already explained, when I introduced this Bill, why it is important, why it is necessary and how it will save lives.
There have been many contributions to this debate and I am pleased to see the interest the Bill has attracted. I would like to address the matters raised in the course of the debate and I apologise if I do not individually name each of the many contributors, in particular as some of the contributions are particularly sensitive. I am pleased to hear from Deputy Troy and his party colleagues that they intend to support my proposals to amend last year's legislation on unaccompanied drivers. I would like to thank Deputy Troy for his support on this matter. On this topic, Deputy Broughan asked whether I have in mind one amendment or two. The answer is two, one to correct the provision brought up in 2016 so it can be commenced and one to allow An Garda Síochána to detain vehicles driven by unaccompanied learner drivers.
I am sorry that Deputy Troy and his colleagues cannot see their way to supporting the core proposal of this Bill in regard to drink-driving. As Deputy Troy said, his party brought in the drink-driving legislation in this country. We agree on the great value of most of that legislation. Where we disagree is on one important aspect, namely, the fact it allows some people who drink and drive to receive penalty points when they should, I am convinced, received a disqualification. Deputies Troy and Cahill noted quite correctly that this Bill relates to people found to be in the 50 mg to 80 mg alcohol bracket and they asked what I am proposing in regard to people on higher brackets. I take the view that their party has already provided in the existing legislation the appropriate penalties, including disqualification, in the higher brackets.
Some Deputies have suggested that the evidence I have cited underpinning this Bill is out of date. Yes, I did quote some figures from 2008-12 but I also referred in my opening speech to the 3,003 fixed penalty notices issued to drink drivers in the 51 mg to 80 mg alcohol concentration bracket from 2012 to 2016, inclusive, and to the striking increase in the numbers during 2016. This disturbing trend has continued and in April 2017 there were more arrests for drink-driving than in any single month in the past five years. I might note too that in 2017, which was overall a year of declining deaths on our roads, there was an increase in both deaths and drink-driving detections in Kerry.
He is personalising it.
The issue of people not returning their driving licences when they are disqualified was raised by Deputies Broughan, Eugene Murphy and Troy. Drivers who are disqualified are required by law to return their licences and the fact that very few do is completely unacceptable. However, the real problem is not disqualified drivers failing to return their licences; it is disqualified drivers who continue to drive. The number of disqualified drivers not returning their licences is not a proxy for the number of people who drive while disqualified. We need strong enforcement of the law against people driving while disqualified, and the necessary tools exist in the Road Traffic Act 2014, which empowered An Garda Síochána to arrest a person who they have reason to believe is driving while disqualified.
In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 18 January 2018.